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Athletics: Megan Keith shocks everyone – including herself – by clinching European cross country title

Great Britain's Megan Keith celebrates winning the women's U20  European race in 2021. Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Great Britain's Megan Keith celebrates winning the women's U20 European race in 2021. Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Inverness athlete Megan Keith appeared totally relaxed as she laughed and waved at the cameras on the start line for the European cross country championships under-20 women’s race.

But, as her dad Alec said about her attitude to racing: “She is a trained killer and anyone who thinks she is just a smiley girl who is not carved out of granite is heading for a nasty shock.”

And so it proved, as slightly more than 13minutes later she had ripped apart a top class field over a testing 4k course at the Sport Ireland campus near Dublin to win gold with a tactically perfect performance.

Keith admits, however, that winning the title hasn’t really started to sink in yet.

She raised her hands to her head, a look of disbelief etched across her face, at the end of the race – the 19 year-old was so focused on the job in hand that until the final step she appeared to be in a world of her own.

She said: “I didn’t really believe it to be honest. It doesn’t feel real and I’m still in shock.

“Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll fully realise what I’ve done. I thought that maybe on a perfect day I could get top three, but at no time did I think I could win it.

“I am really happy.”

Keith was content to sit near the front of the large leading pack in the early stages, but on a muddy uphill section, just before the halfway point, she threw down the gauntlet and pushed into the lead.

Germany’s Emma Hecker went with her and tried to go clear, but Keith was having none of it.

After jostling with her rival for pole position, the Highland athlete dug a little deeper going into the final kilometre and made the decisive break which brought her home in 13min 41sec.

She said: “I really enjoyed the course and I made it work for me. The mud was probably in my favour as I’m happy running in these conditions.”

As Keith eased back on the throttle with the finish in sight, Norway’s Ingeborg Østgard powered past a tiring Heckel to take silver in 13:44, with the German having to settle for third in 13:46.

Finland’s Ilona Mononen, who won the European 3,000m title ahead of Keith on the track last summer, was fourth in 13:49.

Keith picked up another medal when Great Britain and Northern Ireland finished third behind Germany and Spain in the team competition.

The Inverness runner will now sit down with coach Ross Cairns to plan the rest of the winter season, which may offer at least one new challenge with a first indoor appearance.

She said: “I might do the Scottish indoor 3,000m in Glasgow at the beginning of January, although that’s not been decided. Apart from that, there’s the possibility of a home countries cross country international and the Scottish championships.”

Linton off to a flier at Aberdeen Sports Village

Struan Linton got his indoor season off to a flying start in the open graded meeting at Aberdeen Sports Village.

The 20-year-old Aberdeen AAC sprinter blasted out of the blocks to clock an impressive personal best of 6.97secs in the first of two 60m heats. Only two Scots ran faster last winter and it’s the joint third fastest of all-time by an Aberdeen AAC member.

He followed that by clocking 7.01 in his second outing later in the day, which is the second quickest he has achieved.

He said: “I’m more than happy with that.

“In the first race of the season you just want to find out where you’re at. So, it shows my training is going well.

“Breaking seven seconds is massive, as not many people do that.

“But there’s a lot more in the tank.

“I’ll compete at the next open graded meeting here in January before going to the Scottish indoor championships when I’ll probably focus on the 200m.”

Linton was chased home in both 60m heats by Aberdeen clubmates David Irvine (7.22 and 7.13) and Marcus Archer (7.35 and 7.31).

Scottish under-20 championship silver medallist Kyle Wilkinson (Elgin AAC) won the long jump with a clearance of 6.42m, with Aaron Kerr (Inverness Harriers) second with 5.41 and Scottish schools multi events international Finn Bryce (Aberdeen AAC) third, 4.82.

Lucas Davidson (Inverness Harriers) scored two 60m wins in the under-17 category, the 13-year-old clocking 7.76secs and 7.82, while Jake Dickie (Aberdeen AAC) won the shot with 9.80m.

Luc Macleod (Banchory Stonehaven AC) set a PB 5.10m to win the under-15 boys’ long jump.

Veteran Pennet shows she remains a hurdling force

Catriona Pennet is one of Aberdeen AAC’s top hurdlers. Picture by Colin Rennie

Aberdeen AAC veteran Catriona Pennet can still show the rising young stars of Aberdeen AAC a clean pair of heels in the sprint hurdles.

The 38-year-old multiple Scottish medal winner came up against her 19-year-old clubmates Briagha Cook and Erin Williams at the first of this winter’s open graded indoor meetings at Aberdeen Sports Village.

Pennet may be double the age of her rivals, but she sped over the 60m hurdles in 9.10secs to leave Cook well behind in 9.75 and Williams third in 9.78.

The time may be outside Pennet’s best of 8.81, but that was set almost a decade ago when she finished third in the Scottish indoor championships.

Double Scottish age group outdoor champion Holly Whittaker was in excellent form, setting three personal bests. The 13-year-old Elgin athlete won her 60m hurdles race in 9.39secs and the long jump with a clearance of 5.05m, while also recording 8.22 for 60m.

Scottish senior women’s 200m champion Taylah Spence (Orkney AAC) twice broke her PB in the 60m, clocking 7.82 in her first heat before improving to 7.76 in her second outing.

Scottish junior 100m hurdles champion Jane Davidson won the long jump with 5.15m, while teenagers Niamh Scott (Elgin AAC), 4.78, and Coirilidh Cook (Aberdeen AAC), 4.57, were second and third respectively.